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Let's Make a Deal

A Killer App for Business Rules

Let's take a closer look at the reempowerment category of business rule activity mentioned above. This type of project often focuses on opportunities in the general area of CRM—in particular, on making deals. Deals (or, more precisely, contracts and agreements) are how the company formalizes the “rules of engagement” with each customer.

Just about every company these days, of course, wants more and more customers—and highly individualized relationships with each and every one of them. Making the situation even more challenging is the fact that products and services in today's economy are also increasingly complex and/or differentiated. So the question becomes, how can you manage highly individualized or even one-of-a-kind agreements for increasingly complex and differentiated products with increasingly large numbers of customers? And, by the way, how can you do it economically, flexibly, and quickly?

One thing is for sure: you can't do it successfully the way it has been done in the past. The traditional approach might be summarized as follows. A manager, marketing representative, and/or lawyer comes to some agreement with a customer. Such agreement might be about the acquisition of a product or service as a whole (including options, timing, pricing, delivery, and so on) or about some specific aspect thereof (for example, discounts). Once formalized (for example, in a contract or letter of understanding), the agreement is then handed over to the programming staff (or, if simpler, to the operational staff) to implement and operationalize. Depending on the complexity and availability of resources, this might take weeks or months—a virtual lifetime at this crucial juncture in building the customer relationship.

There are at least three things fundamentally wrong with this approach.

  1. It is far too slow. These days, operationalizing an agreement needs to take place in hours or days, not weeks or months.

  2. It cannot be effectively managed. Even if the programming and/or implementation is done correctly (a very big if), the resulting code is far removed—almost completely disconnected—from the original agreement. Any resemblance in form is vague at best. Subsequent changes in the rules (inevitable these days) become slow, painful, and expensive affairs.

  3. The approach is deeply flawed from an organizational viewpoint. Those workers in actual contact with the customers are displaced from those workers who have the skills to adjust the implemented rules of engagement. This leads to gaps, inefficiency, and frustration all around.

The business rule approach offers a potent two-part solution. First, deals are viewed as nothing more than collections of high-level business rules. (We call these governing rules.) The business rule approach has already evolved effective techniques to interpret and manage such rules.

Second, the programming of deals clearly must be eliminated. Business logic technology1 addresses that problem by allowing the rules of engagement to be implemented much more directly.

This approach produces a huge additional advantage—much of the business rule activity can now go outboard. By this I mean it can be removed from the IT department and distributed to those directly in contact with the customers. This will empower those users to manage the rules of engagement directly. Now the deal making (and deal remaking) is done directly, through what I call eDeals. I believe enabling these power users for eDeals will prove a killer app for business rules—and, more importantly, for the business!

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